Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday, Wrigley Field! -- Celebrating a Century of Splendor (and Futility)

Today, April 23, 2014 is the exact 100th anniversary of the first game played at Wrigley Field.

Except that the stadium wasn't named Wrigley, and the Cubs weren't involved.

The ballpark was initially named Weeghman Park, and its first home team was the Chicago Federals (a.k.a. the Whales) of the short-lived Federal League.

The team was owned by Charles Weeghman, who had the park built, only to have the league and his team disband after the end of the 1915 season.

He would then buy the Cubs, who had already existed for several years but had played at West Side Park, and moved them to Weeghman Park for the 1916 season.

Weeghman's fortunes declined and by 1919, William Wrigley owned the Chicago Cubs. But their home field would officially become known as Wrigley Field until the start of the 1927 season. (Wikipedia: History of Wrigley Field)

And the rest is history.

Much of it sad, from a baseball standpoint, as the Cubs would never win a World Series there, at least not yet--since moving to Wrigley they played in 5, but lost all of them.

Weeghman Park, 1914
Still, Wrigley Field is still unabashedly one of my very favorite places on Earth, and among the top places
I'd recommend to Chicago visitors.

I won't be at the game Wednesday, but did go this past Sunday, when the Cubs got crushed by the Cincinnati Reds.

A selection of photos I took--most to commemorate the 100th anniversary--is below.

But first I will regale you with some of my favorite memories of Wrigley Field.

These are specifically tied to being at the park, not just rooting for the Cubs. A few are of specific games, but since I have nowhere near the majestic memory of my friend Dave--who can recall dates and scores of games across several decades--only in extreme cases are my memories of acute results or star players I may have gone to see. And as you'll see, there are many eras cited, rather than specific days.

Wrigley Field in 1970
These aren't ranked, but are roughly in chronological order.

-- My First Game - I don't have a ticket stub or anything approaching certainty, but I believe I first (at least knowingly) went to Wrigley Field in 1975, at the age of 6, with my maternal grandparents for a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don't recall it being the 4th of July, but per Baseball-Reference, that was the only doubleheader against the Pirates not conflicting with the school year. So I'll go with July 4, 1975 as my first (and second) Cubs game at Wrigley. The Cubs won both.

-- Early Games - I have no evidence until a ticket stub from July 27, 1983 ($3.00 for bleacher seats) but
know that I went to a good handful of Cubs games before that with my family, school field trips, camp outings and, likely by the age of 11, with just my friend Jordan via the Skokie Swift and Red Line. A highlight came in '77 or '78, when at a game thanks to either my dad's workplace or the B'Nai Brith, we got to go on the field after the game and meet Ernie Banks (by then retired) and Cubs pitcher Ray Burris, who both gave me autographs.

-- 1984 - Unlike most Cubs fans, I was never raised to dislike the White Sox, and was delighted to finally see a Chicago team make the playoffs in 1983. But 1984 was a special season for Cubs fans, as the team made the playoffs for the first time in 39 years. According to my ticket stubs, I went to 5 regular season games. A couple undoubtedly were with Jordan, but that summer I worked as mailroom messenger for a Loop law firm and my supervisor took me to a game on August 6, where we sat right behind the Cubs dugout. The Cubs beat the Mets and Dwight Gooden 9-3.

-- The Vending Years (1985-89) -- During high school and college, I sold Pepsi and peanuts as a seat vendor at Wrigley (and also Comiskey). I was a pretty lousy vendor, not only because I would watch part of the games, but when it was hot and I sold Pepsi, I couldn't help but make over $100 per game, which wasn't bad for a teenager. There was a good camaraderie with other vendors, including my high school friend Mark. He started vending in 1984, prompted me to sign up and though now a teacher, still vends most weekend Cubs games. Four specific vending-era memories follow:

-- Pete Rose Ties Ty Cobb - September 8, 1985 - In a game against the Reds that ended 5-5 (called on account of darkness as there were no lights), Pete Rose had two hits that gave him a career total of 4,191, tying Ty Cobb's longstanding record. A few days later (not at Wrigley) he would break it. 

-- Michael Jordan scores 63 against the Celtics - April 20, 1986 - Though vending, I spent a good chunk of the Cubs game watching the Bulls on a TV at a beer stand atop the first base grandstand section.

-- Let There Be Light - 8/8/88 and 8/9/88 - It was pretty cool to be at Wrigley for the first ever night game, even though the one on August 8 started, stopped due to heavy rain and never counted. But as a vendor, I was back the next night, for the first official game under the lights.

-- The Playoff Game I Didn't Get To - October 4, 1989 - I graduated from college in May 1989, but unable to find employment in my field, continued to vend that summer until taking a job as a bank teller in Evanston. In advance, I asked my boss if I could leave early on the night of the first Cubs/Giants playoff game, but was told "No" because I had asked him in front of other employees. After my shift that day, my parents tried to drive me to Wrigley, but due to traffic we were too late for me to get in the vending gate. The next day's game was a 3pm start, so I didn't go to that one either.

-- The Harry Caray Years - 1982-98 - Likely more significant for watching the games on TV, but Harry's rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was always fun.

-- 1998 and the Sammy Sosa Years - In retrospect, I'm sheepish about how wholeheartedly I rooted for Sammy Sosa in 1998 and in following seasons, but I can't deny that I did. And chemically-enhanced or not, it was pretty awesome to see his mammoth home runs. I recall seeing a pair on June 20, 1998, a Cubs playoff season.

-- Kerry Wood's First Comeback - May 6, 2000 - After striking out 20 in just his 5th game in 1998 (I wasn't there) and winning Rookie of the Year, Wood spent the entire 1999 season on the Disabled List. I was there for his first game back.

-- Roger Clemens' Bid for 300 Wins - June 7, 2003 - This was a Saturday game, and the one before was the first time the Yankees had played at Wrigley since 1932, when Babe Ruth called a home run shot. So the Yankees being in town was big in itself, but Roger Clemens was aiming for his 300th win and pitching against Kerry Wood and the second-place Cubs. There was palpable excitement, but the game was marred when Cubs first baseman Hee-Seop Choi got hurt on a popup and lay motionless for minutes. It wasn't much fun watching a game thinking I may have seen someone die. And I can't recall my emotions when the Cubs came back to beat Clemens and deny his historic win. It would've been a big victory for the Cubs and I've come to despise Clemens, but it would have been history.

-- Game 6 - October 14, 2003 - You can read this recollection I wrote on the 10th anniversary of what may be the saddest moment in Wrigley history (aside from actual tragedies). But the feeling I had around the 7th inning is likely the best I've ever felt at Wrigley. I should note that I had attended Game 3 of the Division Series at Wrigley, in which Mark Prior and the Cubs beat Greg Maddux and the Braves. And I also went to Atlanta for Game 5, which turned out to be the Cubs only playoff series clincher since 1908. Still, Game 6 of the NLCS hurt.

-- Cubs vs. Sox - I like the Cubs more than the White Sox and would root for them to win a Crosstown World Series. Short of that I am also a Sox fan, heretical as it may be. So though I innately cheer for the Cubs against the White Sox, there have been times when I haven't minded the Sox winning if more beneficial to their overall season. I've been to 13 Cubs/Sox games overall, including 9 at Wrigley. The Cubs have won 6 of these.

-- Opening Day - April 12, 2010 - This is the only opener I've been to at Wrigley Field.

-- Anthony Rizzo Walk-off Homer - July 29, 2012 - Though since two straight 3-and-out playoff appearances in 2007 & 2008, the Cubs have been perpetually lousy, I still enjoy going to a handful of games each season (after my vending years, I've never gone to all that many). One of the more memorable of late came when Anthony Rizzo beat the Cardinals with a walk-off 2-run homer. 

-- Concerts - Given how much I relish Wrigley, it not surprisingly has become my favorite venue for
concerts since it began hosting them in 2005. I've seen The Police (2007), Billy Joel & Elton John (2009), Paul McCartney (2 shows in 2011), Roger Waters (2012), Bruce Springsteen (2 shows in 2012; on night 2 I touched both the ivy and Bruce) and Pearl Jam (2013), which because of rain the show ended at 2:00am, perhaps the latest there has ever been public activity at Wrigley Field.

-- April 20, 2014 - As I mentioned above, I went to Wrigley for the first time this season on Sunday, with my friend Dave. There was nothing special about the game; the Cubs looked awful. But it was a beautiful day, the kind that reiterates that there is no place I'd rather be. And I took these photos (and a few of those above):

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